Teaching to the Test
With so few schools for uninfected children left, that meant I was out of a job—until the government passed the No Infected Left Behind Act. Teaching a class of forty teenagers who are developmentally-disabled cannibals isn’t as bad as it sounds. Really, they act out less than the average high school student. And the job pays the bills, I remind myself.
I walk into my classroom. The smell of decomposing flesh assaults my nose. Bright morning sunlight spills in from the windows and glints off of the metal restraints that bind the students to their desk chairs. Fluorescent posters with positive affirmations hang on the walls, just as they would in a normal high school. Most of the students here will never be able to read them.
I greet the students. “Good morning, class.”
Their voices are a collective of raspy hisses. “Goo mooooring cwaaassssss.”
“No, you say, ‘Good morning, Miss Sanders’.”
“Goo mooooring Miii Andeees.” That’s pretty good for students who are the equivalent of zombies.
I scan my lesson plans. “Let’s start the day out with some art! Yay!”
“Yaaaay,” they repeat in cheerless monotone.
It takes a while to pass out the paper and nubs of crayons. The rows are extra wide, enabling me to stand far enough back that I can avoid the hands that aren’t locked in restraints. It’s not that I worry about contamination. I’m too old to contract the “zombie” virus; I worry about them trying to eat me.
With one hand free, most of the students draw scribbles. Five out of the forty are advanced enough to draw five-year-old level stick figures. Twenty-year-old Marisol Hernandez, the oldest in the class, draws a picture of what looks like a cat. Or maybe a dog. Or maybe an apple with legs. She’s the only one I knew from before the epidemic; one of my previous sixth graders. She was friends with my daughter.
A pang of misery claws at my insides. I push the memories of my own children out of my mind.
“Good morning, Marisol. How are you today?” I smile, feeling especially tired as I look at her.
Marisol used to be an honor roll student with long blonde hair and rosy cheeks with dimples. Her pallor is now gray, her face gaunt. There are bald places in her shorn hair. She’s not as bad off as some of them. Ronny Schwinn, who sits two seats behind her, is covered with a thick layer of medicated ointment to keep the flesh from falling off his face. Just like chicken-pox, the virus hits some harder than others. Ronny hasn’t drawn anything. He keeps trying to eat his crayons, but can’t reach the tiny nubs to his mouth with the shoulder restraint holding him up.
“Gooooooooo.” Marisol makes eye contact with me. For the briefest second, I think I catch a glimpse of intelligence. It’s not unheard of for children infected with the virus to recover. It happens to about five percent of children before reaching adulthood. The ones who don’t recover . . . well, there hasn’t been one virus reversal during adulthood. The infected surviving to adulthood don’t last long. Their bodies deteriorate by the time they’re thirty.
My heart sinks when I think about the children wheeled away when they reach the age of twenty-one. Since I teach the upper division of kids, I usually get one carted away a month. Each time is as heartbreaking as the first time. My Wendy was twelve and William fourteen when the government insisted all parents turn over their infected children. My throat tightens. I should have hidden them like Marisol’s family had done.
It’ll be up to Marisol’s parents if they decide to keep her in a state-controlled adult home for the infected or they elect to have her incinerated. Considering her test scores show no level of improvement, her parents haven’t visited for three years, and she’s going to be turning twenty-one in just a month, they’ve probably given up hope. Still, I can’t give up. I look at her face and remember that innocent smile and her gentle nature.
I look at her and see my own daughter.
Unable to tolerate that void in my core when I stare into her eyes, I distract myself. I point to the cat/dog/apple. “Good job on your art. You’re using lots of bright colors today. Can you tell me what this is a picture of?”
She blinks, her expression returning to the hollow, unfocused gaze I’ve grown to recognize as normal. “Braaaaaaaiiiiiiiiin,” she finally says, drool dripping from her mouth.
I use her bib to wipe off her chin. She tries to bite me.
Hayden, the eighteen-year-old behind her, scribbles with an orange crayon. He looks up at me briefly. “Teeeeeest?”
“No. Don’t worry. No test today.” I ruffle his hair.
He doesn’t attempt to bite me. He smiles in his usual lopsided way. Only half his face lacks expression. It makes my heart sink knowing he doesn’t belong in this classroom.
When we finish art, it takes me several minutes to pry crayons out of the students’ fingers and collect their papers. Jonathan grabs my wrist and brings my hand toward his face.
“No, I don’t like it when you try to bite.” I keep my voice even, not letting the pain leak into my tone. “Show me you can make good choices. Let go of my hand.”
I can’t break free from his vice-like grip. His entire arm trembles with the effort to move my hand to his mouth. Even with his head bent, and his extreme strength, the restraint stops him from bringing my wrist closer than three inches to his face. Drool drips onto my arm.
“Jonathan, I need you to let go. I have to collect crayons so we can do math.”
After another five minutes of this, he tires from the effort, his fingers relax, and he falls asleep. My hand is numb and I rub feeling back into my fingers.
I wish I got naptime too. I already feel exhausted and the day has just begun.
Once art is cleaned up, I stand at the front of the room. “It’s time for math. Today we are working on addition. Please repeat. One plus one is two.”
“Ooooon puuuluuuuusss oooooon iiiiiiiz dooooo,” they slur.
After an hour of math drills, it’s reading time. Because it’s on the test, and the state mandates seniors and the infected between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one be taught the material needed to pass the assessment test, I read an hour of Hamlet. Every once in a while, I’m interrupted by moans.
“Ooooon puuuuuluuuus doooooo iiiiiiiiz sssssreeeeee,” one of them suddenly bursts out.
I place my finger in the book to mark my place. I try to speak using the enthusiasm I wish I had. “Good job remembering your math! But right now we aren’t repeating. I need you to do a good job listening.”
Some of them have fallen asleep. As a little treat, I read, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. It used to be my son’s favorite when he was little. A few of the students open their eyes. Their faces are just as blank and voices the same monotone while they repeat the rhyming lines. Still, I show them the pictures, thinking some of them might enjoy it. Because of the virus, they’re all pretty much like . . . babies. It makes it all that much harder knowing most of them aren’t going to pass the test when they turn twenty-one.
The year the virus struck, I had been teaching sixth grade. First it had been motormouth Johnny, who threatened to sue me every time I gave him a homework assignment he didn’t like, who caught the virus. Then it had been Marisol, and my sweet little William and Wendy who caught the disease. As an adult, I was immune. The virus primarily targeted our young, and adult infection was rare.
With the initial chaos of what people thought were zombies in the streets, it would have been easy for another country to have taken over. If it had been bio-chemical warfare, as the government reported, it certainly had gone awry when it spread globally. By the time the government had annihilated half the infected children out there and contained the rest, scientists began to notice some of the older teens went into remission upon adulthood. Treated with strong anti-virals, they ceased to be carriers of the disease and could be integrated into society again.
It gives me hope some of my students will recover.
When the infected students begin groaning out of time with the story, Goodnight Moon, I check my watch. Snack time isn’t for another half hour, but from their restlessness I decide they’re too hungry to wait. I don’t want another incident like when our math quiz ran fifteen minutes over and one of them was so hungry, he broke the restraints on his chair. Our security and classroom supplies would be higher quality if schools for the infected were funded as sufficiently as schools for healthy children.
I don the thick silicone gloves for passing out the protein bars. Infected children need seventy-five percent more protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and more B-12 than the “normal” minority of children, hence the reason they crave human flesh.
They like peanut butter chocolate bars too.
Bumbling in the thick gloves, I unwrap protein bars and hand one to each child, working my way up and down the rows. The health laws only require nitrile gloves—ironically, to protect the children from any diseases us adults might have. The teacher who designed these special gloves did so not because she feared being infected—but because she feared a child might bite off another one of her fingers.
The sweet nutty aroma mingling with decaying flesh turns my stomach. The ones I haven’t fed yet grow impatient, groaning and clutching at the air. Unlike the crayons or dull golf pencils we use for math, each bar is long enough for them to feed themselves. If there’s one thing an infected student is proficient in, it’s the ability to devour. Very few of them drop any crumbs.
When I get to the third row, Hayden looks up into my eyes. “Teeeeeest?” he asks.
I remove one glove and smooth a hand over his thin, dark hair. “No test today, sweetheart.”
“Baaaaaaar?” he asks.
“Yes, that’s right. It’s snack time. Do you want raspberry or chocolate peanut butter?”
I hand him a raspberry protein bar, keeping an eye on him as he eats it. Hayden doesn’t belong in this class anymore. I had guessed that two months ago when he wanted something different to eat. He looks like the rest of them; dark circles under his eyes, a pale, ashen complexion and red, puss-filled bumps on his face—though I recognize these to be acne, not open sores.
By the time I get to the end of the row and am about to move on to the last line of desks, Hayden’s bar is just a nub and he can’t reach the rest of it to his lips. He isn’t like the rest of them, the way they shove the whole thing in their mouths. I walk back over to him, but I’m too late. He drops it. He lets out a long howl.
“It’s okay, Hayden. You can have another.”
He continues to let out ragged, little cries. I take out half a bar from the box and hand it to him. If I was allowed to unfasten the metal arm restraints, he would be able to feed himself. Anger flares up in me when I think about how he doesn’t even need restraints, but administration won’t let me remove them since he hasn’t passed the remission test.
I stay with Hayden as he eats his berry bar, hand feeding him when he gets to the end.
Someone clears their throat behind me. I glance over my shoulder to see the teacher from the room next to mine.
“Hello, Eva. How are you today?” I ask.
She’s twenty-three and fresh out of college. Her face is tired, dark circles under her eyes that are almost as severe as the students’. And she has the easy class.
I can hear the anger in her voice, despite the smile on her face. “Your kids are pretty . . . energetic today. I’m going to close your door so my class can concentrate on their math test.”
Yes, how dare I disturb her superior class, the one class at the school for recovering students.
“Teeeeeeeest!” Hayden screams.
Her words fully register. I sigh and shake my head at Eva. I’ve told the other teachers already not to use that word in my room. Eva purses her lips like an old woman and closes the door behind her. I hear her door slam a moment later.
“It’s okay, Hayden. You don’t have to take a test. We’re just reading and repeating today. Don’t worry.”
He’s been especially sensitive since the last time I asked the testing department to check to see if he qualified for quarantine and integration. The problem is, even though he’s started to demonstrate facial expressions and no longer tries to eat me, all the qualifications for release are based on a written exam. Hayden didn’t pass. Nor would he have passed before he became infected. He was struck by lightning when he was six and has been mentally handicapped since.
From the way he panics every time he hears the word “test,” and the pictures he draws of stick figures burning in a fire, I gather he must have overheard someone in the test taking department talk about him. I can only imagine how frightened he is knowing that the infected who don’t demonstrate progress by means of their test scores are incinerated.
“Teeeeest!” he screams, hyperventilating between wails. “Teeeeest! Teeeeeeeest!”
The last row of students I haven’t fed are moaning and hitting their tables. It’s difficult to decide which is more important; satiating their hunger or consoling the one student with emotions.
If Hayden had a family member advocating for him, they could have pressured the state to make an exception, but his father committed suicide ten years ago. No one knows where his mother is. In another six months, I’m sure I could medically prove Hayden is no longer infected once the cells in his body start to regenerate normally and his antibody count is up. Still, I’m not sure what he has to look forward to when he is released. He’ll be alone in a state home, no different than the infected who aren’t incinerated.
“Hayden, listen to me. There’s no test.” I walk to the last row, keeping my voice calm and even. The groans are growing. I continue to set down bars as I talk to him.
He’s worked himself into such a frenzy that he’s rocking his chair back and forth. The infected nearest mimic him. “Teeeeeest,” they all repeat in a lifeless chorus. They also rock their chairs.
I raise my voice above the chaos. “Hayden, I need you to stop. You’re setting a bad example for your peers.” I haven’t had this much anarchy in a classroom since I taught middle school English before the No Infected Left Behind Act. My most memorable class contained forty-two sixth graders. Four of those students had mental disabilities (one mute, two autistic, and one with Down Syndrome), three were English as a Second Language, one didn’t speak English at all, four had ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder), one had a probation officer, and three were in the Talented And Gifted Program and bored out of their minds. In those days, I had to stay hours after school each night grading papers and making phone calls home about behavioral problems.
Sometimes I don’t know which is worse: teaching forty “zombies” who aren’t capable of learning, or teaching a class of forty bright, healthy kids, all who have the brains to learn but don’t have the means to do so due to overcrowded class size, lack of language comprehension, or more special needs than one teacher cannot possibly accommodate all on her own. That used to be why my ex-husband and I had worked long hours to pay for private school for our children. We wanted them out of the public school system so they could have the best education possible. Meanwhile, I continued to do my best while working in the trenches, aware not every parent could afford such luxuries. It wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair.
And life still isn’t fair now.
“Teeeeeest. Teeeeeeest,” the students all around me repeat.
Another door in the hallway slams. Mr. Arnold, the teacher of fifteen-to-seventeen-year-olds, turns up his radio full blast. Beethoven’s “Für Elise” blares through the wall, masking some of the moaning.
Hayden is rocking so hard in his chair, he’s making it teeter back and forth. His desk hits Marisol in the back, causing her to choke on her protein bar. I hurry over, smacking her back. He rams the back of his chair against Ronny’s desk as Ronny rocks his desk forward, causing them both to wobble precariously. I try to stop Ronny from falling sideways onto the floor with one hand and catch the back of Hayden’s chair with the other. But Hayden launches forward with such force, he crashes into Marisol, and I stumble forward. My leg gets tangled around one of the chair’s legs as Hayden knocks Marisol and her desk chair off balance. As they fall over, I get pinned underneath. Wood and metal bars press painfully into my arms and legs.
I don’t realize I’ve said it loud enough to be heard until the row of the infected behind me repeats, “Shiiiiiiiiii.”
Hayden is sobbing. I lumber to push his desk upright and off of me, but one of the chair legs is broken at the base of the seat, and it won’t stand up. I manage to slide out from underneath him. Marisol is on the floor, wailing in front of me. Her arm is now free of her restraint and she’s waving it around. As I attempt to stand, cold fingers wrap around my ankle, yanking me back to the floor. I land hard on my knees, my breath momentarily knocked out of me. I glance over my shoulder to see Ronny on the floor, only partially restrained. He draws my foot closer to his gaping mouth.
“Help! Someone call security!” I scream. My voice is lost in moans and “Für Elise”.
He chomps down on my gym shoes and spits out a wad of plastic. Using the legs of desks for leverage, I drag myself toward the box of protein bars, pulling Ronny along with me. Marisol writhes wildly on the floor. I’ve seen this before in students. She’s going to break free. And when she does, she’s going to want protein.
I shove Marisol out of my path. She suddenly stops moving. My heart seizes with the realization that she probably smells me. Her instinct for food will take over. She’ll twist around and devour me. To my relief—and simultaneous annoyance—her gaze focuses on the box of bars I’m reaching for. She snatches up my salvation.
Just then, Ronny bites down on my calf. I scream, but my voice is drowned out by the rise of the infected catching the scent of my blood.
I lunge toward Marisol and wrench the box free of her hands, bars spilling onto the floor. I cringe as Ronny tears into my calf. My hands trembling inside the protective gloves, I fumble with the wrapper and twist my body in order to shove a granola bar underneath Ronny’s nose.
He lifts his face, crimson staining his lips and cheeks. He sniffs at the bar. I shove it into his mouth. As he chews, I try to kick myself free. Still, he doesn’t release his superman grip.
I grab another bar from the floor. Marisol is busily biting through the wrapper, too distracted to notice me. My knees throb, fire shooting through my joints as I use my good leg to push off from Marisol’s shoulder to propel myself forward. If I can only get to the phone in the corner, I can call security.
I drag myself and Ronny to my desk. I stop briefly to shove another bar into his mouth. I grab the wooden leg of my immense desk and strain to edge past it. When I look back at the bloody trail I’ve left in my wake, I notice Marisol is on her knees, still strapped to her chair, but trying to stand.
Apparently, she has finished all the bars she can find. She is now staring at Hayden who is lying on the ground crying.
“No! Marisol! Over here. I have more bars for you over here.” I don’t know how she is able to hear me over the crazed class around her. I would think one of the teachers would have called the office by now to report me for the noise infraction, or one of them would have at least poked their head in my classroom to see what the commotion was about. Though, considering this is the third time Hayden has freaked over the word “test” and riled up the rest of the class as a result, the neighbor teachers probably think this is normal.
Slowly, Marisol focuses her gaze on me. I scream as pain lances up my leg again. Ronny gnaws into my flesh. Marisol staggers to her feet, hunching over because of the chair still strapped to her back. I use my good leg to kick Ronny in the head, trying to get him to disengage from my leg. The effort has about as much of an effect as kicking a car. I wrap myself around the corner, my fingers inches from the cord that attaches to the phone at my desk. I yank, but the cord is attached to the desk with duct tape. I can’t get the phone to pull closer to the edge of the desk.
Marisol trudges to my desk. “Baaaaaaar,” she says.
She knocks one of the open boxes onto Ronny. He doesn’t look up. She fumbles above me, crayon drawings floating to the floor. A stack of books avalanches onto me followed by my tray of files. Ronny’s grip slackens slightly. I kick myself a few inches farther from him. His teeth rake down the side of my leg.
I briefly look up to see Marisol has my computer in her arms.
Pain crashes down so intensely on my legs that I’m blinded with flashes of color. For a brief moment, the chaos of moans is muffled. I’m lost in a haze, unaware of where I am or who I am. My mind can only register the throbbing rhythm of lightning in my leg. Then Marisol’s face looms over me, reminding me of the danger I’m in.
Panic fills my voice. “I was your sixth-grade teacher. You told me my class was your favorite. Please don’t eat me.” I can’t hear my voice over the ringing in my ears. Tears fill my eyes.
Marisol’s hollow eyes flicker with emotion. I can’t tell if that’s fear or concern. Maybe just hunger. I stare at the cracked tiles on the ceiling behind her, my vision a shrinking tunnel. I’m no longer aware of the pain. Numbness closes in on me. The solitude of darkness is my friend.
“Chicka chicka boom booooooom. Is there enough roooooom?” A raspy voice strains out the words. It takes me a moment to understand what is being said.
I blink, taking in the unfamiliar white wall to my right and the blue curtain that hangs from ceiling to floor around us. Marisol sits against the white wall, holding a children’s book in her hands. She reads slowly, enunciating each word with care, occasionally drawing out a word in a zombie-like way. The cadence of her voice is as soothing as a lullaby. She doesn’t wear restraints, so I suspect I must be dreaming. People talk about how the brain fires off random memories or hallucinations as they die. I’m guessing this is my hallucination.
Distant voices from beyond the curtain catch my attention, but I can’t quite make out what they’re saying. The room smells of bleach and disinfectant. The fetid rot of flesh wafts from Marisol, but it’s less than what I’m used to. Clear fluid drips from the IV bag to my left. Someone on the other side of the curtain slurps loudly.
I try to shift, pain lancing through my leg. I suck in a gasp.
Marisol focuses her gaze on me. “Miss Sanders?” Her face is void of emotion, her voice monotone. “Miss Sanders, doooooo you want me to caaaaaaall the doctor?” Her face twitches and her posture slumps a little. A flash of embarrassment passes over her features, giving way to concern.
“Noooo.” Pain makes me sound like one of my students. A weak, voiceless laugh escapes my lips. It makes me wonder how much of a students’ speech impairment stems from pain more than lack of motor control. Surely they can’t be as numb as doctors say when flesh is rotting off their bones.
Marisol speaks faster, her words slurring together. “Miss Saaaaanders, I’m sorry about your leeeeeeg.”
“I dropped your computer on Ronneeee. I dislocated hiiiiis shoulder. It was the only way I could geeeeet him to stop. I broke your leeeeeeg.”
I blink. Her words sink in. My lucidity solidifies. “You saved me from Ronny?” So that was intelligence I’d recognized in her eyes earlier in the day.
Suddenly, panic floods me. I sit up, cringing at the way pain blossoms in my leg. “How’s Hayden? Did anyone else get hurt? Who’s watching my class?”
“Teeeest,” a familiar voice says from behind the curtain to my left.
Marisol grabs at a fistful of blue fabric and yanks back the curtain until Hayden is visible. His arm is in a sling and bandages pepper his arm and neck. In his good hand, he holds a spoonful of green Jell-o. A cup sits on his tray. It takes a moment to register that he isn’t in restraints.
“Teeest!” he says again. For once there’s a smile on his face as he says the word. “I teeeest goooood!”
I look to Marisol. Her mouth twitches into a smile. “The doctor could tell heeeee was in remission because he waaaanted candy. He waaaaanted Hayden reteeeested. I told Hayden it was aaaaa game.”
Hayden points to himself with the spoon, a glob of Jell-o dropping onto his hospital gown. “I teeeest good. Maaariiiisol help.”
“He just neeeeded someone to read it toooo him. I remember you diiiiid that for a student in my English claaaass once.”
“Wow, that’s incredible you remembered. And clever you made it into a game.” Pride swells in my heart.
Hayden slurped up another spoonful. The voices from beyond the curtained area rise. Marisol rolls her head to the side, her gesture as limp as a rag doll. At first I think her eyes focus past me. Then I realize she stares at the curtain past Hayden where the voices are coming from.
A woman’s angry voice shouts, “I insist Marisol be moved to a separate facility to begin her quarantine process immediately.”
I strain to hear the calm, professional tone of the man speaking with her. “It’s customary to keep the youths in a class of peers undergoing the same changes and treatments. Once she’s been on anti-virals for a couple months, she can safely exit from the school program and be quarantined until the virus is no longer active—”
“No. My daughter is going to come with me to Saint Mary’s Academy for Recovering Adolescents,” Marisol’s mother shouts.
Talk about monster parents.
I reach out my hand toward Marisol and she takes it. “Congratulations on overcoming the virus. Not everyone gets better. You’re very lucky.” My chest tightens as I wonder if my own son and daughter would have recovered. I’d never gotten the chance to find out.
“I know.” Her lips twitch into a frown before resuming a blank expression. “But I have threeeeee sisters and a brooooother in the school. I read my fiiiiile. My parents intended to exterminate me. They’ll do the saaaaaame to them.”
I’m surprised the office let her read her file. On the other hand, Marisol isn’t a minor. She’s legally entitled to a copy of her school records.
I squeeze her hand, telling her what I wish I could have told my children. “Marisol, I know you might not understand this now. When a child contracts the virus, it’s worse than a death would be. Try to imagine how hard this must be for your parents. They just want the best for you.”
The raw hurt in her eyes is so much harder to gaze into than the expressionless mask I’m used to. “Is that why theeeeeeey only visited once in the last seven years? I won’t abandon my siblings, even if they haaaaave.”
“They must have had some hope if you’re here.” I pause, thinking of my own children. My ex-husband and I had thought we were making the best choice we could so that Wendy and William wouldn’t contaminate healthy children. I draw in a long breath, struggling to speak. “I know you probably can’t appreciate what your parents have done for you, but you’re lucky they didn’t do anything . . . drastic when the virus first started.” My throat tightens, and my eyes burn. I allow myself to remember them; Wendy’s soft, dark curls and William’s freckled nose, the warmth of a little hand in mine.
Marisol goes on as if she hasn’t heard a word of what I’ve said. “I’m going to staaaaay here and volunteer in my brother and sister’s classrooms. I caaaaaan get work experience. I’ve already looked up what I have to do in order to beeeeee a teacher.”
Her mother’s voice on the other side of the curtain grows in volume. “What do you mean she read her school records?”
My neck aches. I realize I’m straining forward and lean back into the pillows. Marisol uses a button to elevate my head and shoulders. She’s so sweet. I wish she was my daughter.
Guilt rips me open and tears spill down my cheeks. “Try to forgive your parents, Marisol.”
Her flaccid expression gives way to concern. “Ms. Sanders, no one blaaaaames you.”
Am I so obvious? I break into sobs. Ten years of penance bubbles up and floods out of me.
“Miiiiiss Anders nooooo cry,” Hayden says.
Marisol hands me tissues. Her lips twitch into a brief smile, reminding me of the little girl I once taught. “I know what will maaaaaake you feel better.” She holds up a chocolate peanut butter granola bar.
My stomach churns. I don’t have the heart to tell her the smell alone will make me throw up.
I wipe away my eyes. “Um, maybe later. I don’t think I’m ready for solid food.”
“Maaariiiisol read yoooou Chicka Boooom?” Hayden asks with his mouth full of Jell-o, some of it spilling down onto his tray.
“No, thank you. I’m fine.” I glance at the book, a smile curving to my lips as I remember reading it to my own children. “I’m guessing you brought that because you remember me reading it to you.”
“I remember a lot of things yooooooou read in class. Even when I was a zombie, I was still awaaaaaare. You’re different than Mr. Finch, the teacher I haaaaaad three years ago. He just sat us in front of a television while heeeee was online most of the day.”
Fortunately, Mr. Finch retired last year.
“But more thaaaaaan that, it was the way you treated us. I don’t ever remember you saying we smelled. You never looooooked at us with disgust . . . even though I craaaaaved the taste of your flesh.” She pauses for so long, I’m afraid she still hasn’t gotten over that craving. “Even though I was a monster, you treated me like I had feeeeeelings. You made me feel human. You maaaaade me remember who I was. It takes a special kind of teacher to beeeee able to do what you do. And that’s why I waaaaant to be a teacher. I want to do that for others. I want to be like yoooou.”
Tears fill my eyes. What Marisol doesn’t realize is that I’m not a good teacher. I’m just a guilty mother. But, like me, she does have firsthand experience on her side. That will give her strength to gift others with her compassion. I feel more hope than I’ve felt in a long time. Maybe someday she will be able to forgive her parents.
Perhaps this is the day I will be able to start to forgive myself.
About the Author
Sarina Dorie has sold over 180 short stories to markets like Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Fantasy Magazine, and F&SF. She has over sixty books up on Amazon, including her bestselling series, Womby’s School for Wayward Witches.
You can find info about her short stories and novels on her website: www.sarinadorie.com.